How to read a Latin love poem – and powerpoint rage (again)
I am off to the Cheltenham Literary Festival on Sunday to do one of my favourite gigs of the year – and now something of an annual fixture. That is “How to Read a Latin poem” (in Latin), conducted by the usual triumvirate of Peter Stothard, Llewelyn Morgan and me. (Yes, I know I should be finishing my footnotes...!)
To be honest, I think this was Peter’s idea, when the Festival was having a big Classics theme a few years ago. He said that we should offer not just talks and so forth, but what loads of people would love to be able to do, but rarely got the chance – that is read some alpha quality Latin literature in LATIN.
He said “loads of people” would love to do it. But I think deep down everyone really imagined that we would end up spouting enthusiastically to an audience of half a dozen (mostly our mates). In fact we picked a really complicated Ode of Horace (1. 7, the Plancus Ode -- you can click on a link to get the Latin) and had an audience of getting on 200.
So we’ve been invited back. First to do Virgil, then last year some Juvenal and this year we are on to Latin love poetry – with Ovid, Amores 2, 4 (we’ll be looking at two sections in particular; it’s rather too long for the whole) and a small chunk of the first book of the Ars Amatoria. Some good (and racy) stuff (how do you translate “Amores” for a start?). You can get the Latin here.
The division of labour is as it always is. Llew is the guy who teaches Latin for his day job, and he reads it out loud like a dream, with all the right “quantities” and making it sound like a foreign language (I suspect some people come just for that). Peter is the choreographer and stop us getting too airy fairy, wen we should be concentrating on the Latin. And I tend to talk about the cultural context (and definitely, in the case of Ovid, gender context . . . is Ovid really being so very blokeish, or is he sending blokeishness up?).
I also make the visual aids : a power point with the key sections of the Latin text and a horribly literal interlinear translation, so that people can see clearly how the Latin fits together; same think on a photocopied handout for those who cant see the screen; and then another photocopy with a text of the whole poem (in the case of the Amores. – and a bit of general context for Ars Am) plus a nice English translation for people to take away.
The irony is that making all this takes far longer than actually doing the gig or even doing the “thinking” prep. I guess I’ve been crafting this lot for five or six hours now, and I’ve still got more to do. I can't tell you how long it takes to get the interlinear translation to work, matching up the Latin to the English words, especially with Ovid's word order (which is, of course, part of the point).
It is, I guess, another example of the iron rule of AV technology: namely that each new innovation takes more and more time.
It’s even more the case with visual images rather than the simple interlinear text. Let me say that I don’t regret a minute of the time I spend on Cheltenham, but what about the more standard teaching fare?. In the old days, as I recall, the whole business of getting pictures for your lectures was supported by specialist staff: you chose the images that you wanted from books, and they were turned into slides by the faculty photographer; and then a projectionist displayed them for you (OK .. how badly paid was that infrastructure?? How toff do I sound?). Now we do it all ourselves. We find the images, we use our own pics, we scan from the books and make our own powerpoints.
OK it is great because you can do it at the last minute. In fact, you have the privilege of doing it at home at 1.00 am. And you can take hours and hours. My question is: is this really a good use of academics’ time? Or rather, if we were to adopt the private sector model, would we be using the last three hours of a very long day constructing a powerpoint presentation? Is this what the high paying students would want us to be doing?
Cheltenham apart, I don’t think so,
(Anyway, if you are free near Cheltenham on Sunday, do come. I think there are still a few tickets. And noone is trying to flog their books, we're just trying to flog Ovid...!)